Cisco's highest-tech digital offering in five years -- Project Squared, which hit their Partner Summit in L.A. last week -- breaks digital boundaries by tapping into analog sensibilities.
Yep. You read that right.
Turns out, counter-intuitively -- and yet shockingly intuitive once the light bulb flashes on -- analog is the way to understand digital.
I'd been seeing demos and hearing about Cisco's Project Squared for more than a year. Presidio was even selected as part of the Early Field Trial program to test and provide feedback on the tool before the launch. Even with that exposure, however, it wasn't immediately obvious how this app added anything to my life that made it worth my time. I already collaborate with my co-workers using Cisco Collaboration -- WebEx, Jabber, Telepresence -- every day.
Now it’s just days after the yearly Cisco Collaboration Partner Summit, where analysts, customers and partners come from around the world to hear Cisco's Collaboration vision for the next 12-18 months. The prime offering in the vision? That's right, Project Squared.
Word choice means a lot here. Project Squared is just that, a PROJECT -- a vision, an idea, a digital worldview, not a PRODUCT, per se -- which means the definition is fuzzier than the solid gear you take out of the box and hold in your hand. Rowan Trollope, GM for Cisco's Collaboration Business -- he's in charge of product development for the Collab suite -- tee'd up an analogy that helped that fuzziness click into focus for me. The analogy surgically pinpoints what's been missing in digital collaboration.
Here's how Trollope explains it.
The most successful DIGITAL objects that we use on a daily basis are simply a representation of something familiar in the PHYSICAL world.
A file, document and picture are all simply a digital version of what we know in the real world. In both the digital and physical worlds, a folder is used to organize files. In both worlds, a desktop is the surface on which you place those files.
What hasn't been represented well in the digital world of collaboration -- until now -- is a ROOM.
I don't mean a chat room. Or, not exactly. Or maybe, the next generation of what the inventors of chat rooms were aiming to accomplish: a digital reflection of analog social interaction rooted in a particular place.
A room is someplace you can pull people into on the fly for a conversation. It is a place where you can gather and collaborate on ideas and documents. It is a place where you can put things on the wall. It is a place where you can ensure privacy when needed and openness when desired. You use a room for a variable period of time; you might use a room for one meeting or reserve one room for a long project that last months and years.
Project Squared -- remember, now, it's a PROJECT, not a priced-and-shipped PRODUCT — represents that room.
Imagine a workplace in 10 years where you start a job at a new company and get, not just an e-mail address, but also a virtual room where you can meet and collaborate with anyone, on any device, anywhere in the world.
You can spin up as many rooms as you'd like, using them for a day or a year. Your activity history is in that room. You can lock the door for that room. You can invite people into that room who aren't in your company, or who are in your company. You can meet face to face with everyone in that room with a single button-press.
My favorite slide in last week's presentations showed two islands with sharks in the middle. A lot of clouds are like islands: while they may be lush and full of promise, they don't connect to or integrate with anything we have in our environments today.
Cisco demonstrated calls between mobile devices using Project Squared, between Jabber and Project Squared, and between video endpoints and Project Squared. Cisco plans for Project Squared to be able to integrate with and communicate with existing products.
Trust me, Cisco understands that the value of the network is amplified as more people connect to it. They'll be building super highways to this new island from the ones you are on today.
In just a few short days of using Project Squared, the following are two use cases I didn't expect Project Squared to be useful for. There are many more, but for the sake of brevity, I'm only listing two.
#1. Meeting prep. We all have monthly, quarterly and yearly calls we participate in. Historically, most of the prep has happened by passing huge files over e-mail. I have lots of document repositories available to me, but having the object of collaboration IN the communication stream is simply the easiest way to go.
Using Project Squared allows me to have both communication and document collaboration in the same stream. I don't need to download files from an internal Sharepoint site, file share, etc., and I also don't need to rely on my personal cloud storage. As a user, I'd be willing for IT to require me to put my files in Squared and allow them to secure them in there.
Why? Because it makes good old-fashioned sense according to the logic of both digital and analog worlds: I'm bringing the business proposal into the room with me for everybody to peruse around the table. It's intuitive. It's easy.
2. Event coordination. Trade shows, seminars and industry events are an interesting blend of networking, executive discussions, partner meetings and party time. In past events, we'd rely either on over-the-top messaging like WhatsApp or GroupMe (which require everyone to have that specific app), SMS (which doesn't handle group discussions across platforms well), e-mail (where time-sensitive messages are buried by the flood of messages we all face) and phone calls (great for individual talks but not group discussions).
This Collaboration Summit, I used Squared for event coordination: a refreshing experience. Cisco also opened up a couple of rooms to host the 600+ users here where they heard feedback live as the session was going on, and posted the slide decks to at the close of the session. All my executive discussions have been followed up by opening a room in Squared to continue the discussion and follow up on action items.
This experience was frictionless: not just sitting in the meeting rooms with laptops or iPads, but even in the middle of a conversation at the bar with our phones and the Squared app.
Still, it's harder to define a PROJECT than a PRODUCT, harder to click into focus a digital worldview than a piece of gear or a line of code. So let me clarify what Project Squared is NOT.
1. Project Squared is not a replacement. It doesn't replace Jabber. It doesn't replace WebEx. It doesn't replace Communications Manager.
Project Squared is meant to make existing tools BETTER.
It does this by being able to connect to all of them seamlessly with the complexity hidden from the user. All the user does is click the Video icon to call people. Squared and the infrastructure behind it figures out the different devices, different platforms and different protocols and joins everyone on the call.
There is... more. Really. But like the analog world it's based on, you have to experience it to get it. Reading a blog post can't tell you how coffee tastes if you've never tasted coffee; you won't fully understand Project Squared until you've tasted it either. Luckily, Cisco is hip to this.
Cisco made the choice to get the word out on Project Squared and let people start using it - free - similar to how Google had Gmail in beta for several years. While Cisco will likely want to find a way to monetize Squared in a faster time than that, do yourself a favor and taste the virtual coffee. Login at https://projectsquared.com to Project Squared to check it out.
How are you using Project Squared?
Is it really made from unicorn tears, or are you hitting some drawbacks? Share your discoveries with us @Presidio.